Column: MLB in Cuba offers hope for some Cuban-Americans

Cuban fans hold a flag as they await the start of a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national baseball team, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, March 22, 2016. It's the first game featuring an MLB team in Cuba since the Baltimore Orioles played in the country in 1999. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Major League Baseball went to Cuba this week for the first time in the 21st century – Barack Obama became the first President to visit the island since Calvin Coolidge.

I’m half-Cuban; many members of my family were born there and made the struggle to immigrate to this country. For many years, it’s been my dream to find a way to go to that island, to my homeland, the land of my ancestors.

Thus, seeing the Tampa Bay Rays play a game against the Cuban national team at the Estadio Latino America in Havana was inspiring.

Baseball, America’s national pastime, is also the game of Cuba. The national team has won three Olympic gold medals and has participated in each of the three World Baseball Classics.

There were 27 Cuban players in Major League Baseball last season, including some of the games biggest stars: Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Fernandez, Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu.

The relationship between the United States and Cuba is long and complicated. Prior to the Castro regime, the two nations, separated by just 90 miles, were in sync. It was a destination for wealthy Americans who wanted a quick and easy island escape.

The island fundamentally changed in 1959 with the Cuban Revolution. Fidel Castro’s radical Communist agenda made it a hostile place for many Cubans.

Political dissent meant arrest or death. Families were ripped apart.  

My grandparents were lucky to escape. They made the choice to come to this country to create an opportunity for a better future.

Yet, all my life, I’ve been fascinated by Cuba; I need to go. There are many Cuban-Americans that do not feel the way I do.

Dan Le Batard, a writer, radio host and TV personality on ESPN, is the pre-eminent Cuban-American voice in sports media. His show, which he hosts with his immigrant father Gonzalo, is based in Miami. Le Batard disagreed with the Rays decision to play in Cuba.

“I've never known anything but freedom. My grandparents and parents made sure that was so. But now my grandparents are dead, and my parents are old, and the Cuban regime that strangled them somehow lives on … lives on to play a baseball game with our country this week. America extends its hand toward a dictator who has the blood of my people on his own. And now my parents, old exiles, have to watch Obama and Jeter and ESPN throw a happy party on land that was stolen from my family … as the rest of America celebrates it, no less. That's going to hurt, no matter how you feel about the politics,” he explained in a column for the Miami Herald.

Every Cuban-American feels the struggles that come with taking a stance on this complicated issue.

Maybe I am just naïve and sheltered from the true pain that Castro caused Cuba and its people. I just want to go and get in touch with my roots.

So seeing the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays play a baseball game, with President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro sitting together in the front row, was a harbinger that things are changing for these countries.

Relations are improving. Hopefully soon, families can be reunited.


Elan-Paolo DeCarlo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering men's basketball. He can be reached via email at elan-paolo.decarlo@uconn.edu. He tweets@ElanDeCarlo.